WATCH OUT! Adding Adrenaline to Pedestrian Safety Campaigns

Catherine Baker“Wear lights, especially at night,” “no texting while walking,” “make them see you.” It seems to be that time of year in the Greater Washington, D.C. metro region where every jurisdiction is finishing up or rebranding their Pedestrian Safety Campaigns. In Montgomery County, police officers are stepping into intersections donning brightly colored apparel and ticketing drivers who do not stop; buses drive along covered in a teenager’s eyes with a slogan below that reads: “Hey you, I’m looking at you.” Across the region, the Be Street Smart campaign is wrapping up and tracking success. The Be Street Smart advertisements this year featured  the face of a pedestrian or bicyclist covered in tire-tracks with various arresting slogans, such as “Pedestrians don’t come with airbags." The ads are powerful and alarming. During the Be Street Smart campaign, jurisdictions were encouraged to get the word out to kids and adults on how to walk and drive safely.  The Be Street Smart campaign and other local pedestrian safety campaigns are geared towards reducing pedestrian and auto crashes and fatalities.

As I am working with the Prince George’s Pedestrian Safety Committee (part of the larger Prince George’s Healthcare Action Coalition), we are asking ourselves, what makes a good pedestrian safety campaign?  Is it the catchy tips that rattle though our brains as we drive and walk? Is it a catchy jingle? Is it bracelets and t-shirts with slogans? Or should we ignite a little fear in the campaign? As a D.A.R.E. program graduate (I am revealing my age here) I remember very strongly watching an elderly woman try to speak through a hole in her throat, the sound of her garbled computer like voice and the image has stuck with me into adulthood and I still sort of shudder in remembrance when I am around cigarettes. Why not then put some fear into pedestrians and drivers? The problem with making pedestrian safety campaigns all about fear is that we should not be afraid to be a pedestrian or a bicyclist, but we should be alert. Yes, fear has its place, and yes, pedestrian fatalities do occur, but there are ways to mitigate your risk as a pedestrian. Walking to school, to parks, and to shops should not be something we have to fear; however, we should acknowledge the potential risks. 

By creating local safety tips and rhyming phrases on safe practices, we can remind drivers and pedestrians alike to stay alert and obey the street rules for their own safety. How much fear should be placed in an advertisement? We are finding out that the best pedestrian safety campaigns are based on the local situation. For instance, in Prince George’s County we are finding that pedestrian fatalities occur during the evening hours, when the sun is setting, and commuters are returning home; therefore we are focusing on the phrase “Walkers Wear White." However, in and around college-campuses messages can be tailored to address the unique situation there; in North Carolina near the University of North Carolina the community adopted the slogan “Yield to Heels”, referencing the mascot of the school in the slogan—TarHeels. Safe Routes to School is committed to helping communities tailor messages about bike and pedestrian safety to their individual issues and needs.